The World Health Organisation can now officially recognise Northern Ireland as having a BSE Negligible Status, according to Ulster Farmers’ Union Deputy President, Ivor Ferguson.

“This would put us ahead of all other regions in the UK and Ireland, where this fundamentally important issue is concerned,” he said.

Ferguson said Northern Ireland have until May of this year to submit all of the required documentation and relevant statistics.

“This work must be undertaken by the Department of Agriculture. I am deeply concerned that the officials involved are not showing the enthusiasm required to get this issue over the line.

Securing BSE Negligible Status would provide a major export boost for Northern Ireland’s beef sector.”

The Republic of Ireland lost its BSE Negligible Status last year, following the confirmed outbreak of the disease on a dairy farm in Co Louth.

Ferguson said that securing new export outlets for Northern Ireland’s beef, sheep and pork sectors must be a priority for 2106.

“And, preferably, outside of the EU, as this takes the currency issue out of the equation. The strength of sterling against the euro is both hampering the export of meat products from Northern Ireland to the rest of Europe while, at the same time, giving imports from regions such as the Republic of Ireland a price advantage within the UK.”

Ferguson spoke at the Union’s recent Co Antrim president’s area meeting.

He said that the Union would be seeking agreement at Westminster to allow Department of Agriculture officials in Belfast deal directly with all matters pertaining to the procurement of export contracts on behalf of Northern Ireland’s food processing businesses.

“Currently, DEFRA takes the lead in all of these matters.

“But the arrangement is not working as too much time is wasted in co-ordinating arrangements between Belfast and London. There is no reason why Department of Agriculture officials in Belfast cannot handle all of these issues directly.”